Tuesday, November 20, 2018

A Visit to Church, in a way

"Don't eat anything! Don't let anyone touch you." The hotel manager's instructions stopped me. I looked at him, puzzled. I'd been reading in the guidebooks how vodou (not voodoo, which is something in New Orleans that mostly seems to involve souvenirs) is not about zombies and scary movies. It's a religion. Spiritualism.

The hotel manager laughed and laughed.

Oh. He was joking. Maybe? I mean, he's from Brooklyn, but before that, he was from Haiti. He knew vodou wasn't what we've seen in the movies.

I found the guide for the evening in front of the Florita, where he always is. He asked if I had money for rum—the donation to the vodou ceremony.

I was out of small money, but Haitian and US. I'd hoarded singles and fives for weeks before heading out from LA, but I'd used them all for tips and fees. I hadn't even had the opportunity to horde my Haitian small money—I used it up on motorcycle taxis and restaurant tips as soon as I got it.

I gave the guide a US twenty-dollar bill for taking me along with the other two tourists to the vodou ceremony, and I spent my last three singles on my part of the rum.

The Canadian tourist was driving, and Michel the guide was in the passenger seat. I was in the back seat with Michael from Brooklyn.

Michel guided us down dirt roads past an empty market, then instructed the Canadian to ford the river. We made it across without incident, then headed along more dirt roads until we got to a small village, where the guys went into a bar and purchased our rum-admission. We passed by women in bright red dresses walking to the ceremony. Finally, we pulled up in a field, and Michel led us along some dark paths into what looked like a corrugated metal barn.

Folding chairs were brought out for us and we were placed in the back of the room, where we waited for an hour as an emcee with a mic and MacBook deejayed for the crowd. Finally, the women in red started swaying as the drummers drummed, and a vodou priest took the mic and began to chant.

The women do not wear red every night of every ceremony. They wear the color of the spirit being honored—tonight they were honoring the criminal spirit. 

We watched for two hours as the women danced, the audience danced, drummers drummed, the priest chanted, and everyone drank rum, beer, moonshine, whatever was offered. 

I can't pretend to understand what the rituals were about, but I'm pretty sure I understand this. 

Vodou is about community.

1 comment:

William Kendall said...


Some years ago one of our museums hosted an exhibit for some months on vodou.